LARAMIE, Wyo. — Last season’s grind took a toll on the University of Wyoming women’s basketball team. The physicality and travel woes showed as the promising Cowgirls began the season 7-4, but finished 6-12 in Mountain West play.
Wyoming is ready to give it another shot.
“I think everybody came back energized, ready to get going, and looking forward to this season,” UW head coach Joe Legerski said. “We have a number of questions to be answered for this group and I think that’s created some excitement for this team.”
Wyoming’s lone senior, Sheridan’s Hailey Ligocki, felt her batteries recharge upon rejoining her teammates for the school year and preseason practices.
“The end of last year and our offseason was good,” Ligocki said. “We had summer time off, which was a good break for everybody, but this preseason has been really good as well.”
There’s no doubt Legerski is right. There are numerous questions among this Wyoming team.
With only one senior, the Cowgirls will depend on heavy minutes from juniors and sophomores, and the young team will need to mature in a hurry. Wyoming will be challenged early and often.
“With this group, they probably have the most challenging preseason schedule of any team that I’ve had,” Legerski said. “You’re talking about going to Colorado, going to Drake, going to Michigan State — challenges — at Montana, and so one of the things we said was that we just wanted to get better each and every day.”
The road game against Michigan State (Nov. 13) is only the second of the season for the young Cowgirls. Wyoming travels to Drake (Nov. 27) just two weeks later, forging a tough road in the first month of the season. Then come back-to-back road games against Montana (Dec. 18) and Colorado (Dec. 21) to end the nonconference portion of the season.
Mountain West play begins just before the New Year and the coaches hope the new emphasis on defense and less transition is fully developed by then. The conference is home to teams older and faster than Wyoming, so dictating the tempo of play is already a focal point for the Cowgirls.
“It’s what we need to do,” Legerski said. “We used to do that a great deal, we had success with it and so we have gone back to that formula. It’s also what works best for this group.
“Each and every year you have to figure out what works best for the team you have and the players you have. For this group it’s probably going to be limit the possessions in a game, as well as to get better defensively.”
The Cowgirls, while young, do return some experience.
Marta Gomez, a member of the MW all-freshman team last year, worked on her shot over the offseason and it’s helped her feel more comfortable in her transition to playing on the wing. Fellow sophomore Bailee Cotton has started 18 games in her career over two seasons before both were cut short due to knee injuries.
“I definitely have to make myself step up and be a little more vocal this year and help out people having struggles,” Cotton said. “Not just, ‘You shouldn’t have thrown this pass,’ but really just being supportive of everyone is our main goal.”
There’s also the question of how receptive the younger players will be; and not just from an attitude standpoint. Five foreign-born players are on the roster, most of whom know English as a second language and none older than sophomores.
Then again, that doesn’t mean they can’t make immediate contributions. Consider Gomez’s success last year as a freshman while still getting acclimated to the complications of coming from overseas. There’s also Riikka Kujala and Tijana Raca, both sophomores, who came off the bench for the Cowgirls last season.
Wyoming may go into the season with little experience, but if the Cowgirls can keep their heads above water during nonconference then they could set themselves up for success in the Mountain West.